“Feel this,” I said, taking The Boy’s hand and putting it on my right breast.
He didn’t even have time to finish his smile before it turned into a frown and I knew I wasn’t imagining it.
It was hard, round, pea-sized and definitely there.
We were lying on the floor, watching TV and my right arm was stretched above my head. Over the next few weeks and countless doctors appointments later, I learnt that it’s the ideal position to examine breasts, the action stretches out the tissue so that it flattens out and gives you more surface area to prod.
I don’t know why my arm was in that position that night.
I don’t make a habit of examining my breasts, usually around October when everything turns pink and I’m reminded that I probably should pay lip service to it.
I’m 32, healthy and have no family history.
Over the next few weeks, I put off having a mammogram but I would constantly check my breast. I couldn’t feel the lump when I stood up, but when I lay down and stretched my arm it was there.
Until one day it wasn’t. I couldn’t feel it anymore.
Score. I can just pretend that it never happened.
Then I got a letter reminding me I was overdue for a pap smear, another of those delightful tests that I wanted to put off but this time I dutifully trotted off to the GP. The Boy and I were trying to fall pregnant and after a few months of nothing I wanted to make sure everything was in working order.
I casually mentioned the now-missing lump to my GP and she referred me for an ultrasound. It was probably nothing but it wouldn’t hurt to check.
Mammograms aren’t ideal for women under 40, breast tissue is too dense and it’s hard to detect abnormalities, so we started out with an ultrasound. Lying there and chatting away to the technician while he did his thing, he said it was probably a cyst. They form, then they go away. Nobody knows why, but it’s nothing to worry about.
He kept the ultrasound probe in the one spot and asked if I felt anything. Nope, nada.
There was a lump there, but before I completed my freak out he calmed me down. It was benign. Phew.
My referral was just for the right breast, but seeing as I was already lying bare-chested on the table and he had found something in one, I asked him to check the other one.
We were happily chatting away when he focussed on a spot about two centimetres above my left nipple.
“Does this hurt?” he asked.
“Any nipple discharge?”
“Nope,” I said, still oblivious.
“I can see another lump.”
“Just like the other one?” I asked, unperturbed. Writing this down now, I can’t believe I was so thick.
There was a three second pause before he said, “This one is different.”
And that’s when I got it.
It was the way he said “different.” I just knew.
I had to wait a week for the results of the mammogram and biopsies to come in. People say the worst is the waiting, the not-knowing. They’re wrong. At least while waiting you can kid yourself that there’s nothing wrong.
Although I felt the cyst, I couldn’t feel those two lumps. I would lie down, examining my breasts and not feel a thing. But they were there. Even my brilliant surgeon needed a few seconds of prodding before he found the cancerous one, and that’s with experience and a mammogram which showed him exactly where it was. I would have had no chance of finding it on my own.
If I hadn’t felt that cyst, I wouldn’t have mentioned it to my GP.
If I hadn’t had the pap smear reminder, I wouldn’t have seen my GP.
If I hadn’t had the benign lump in my right breast, I wouldn’t have asked to get my left checked.
Sometimes I wish I hadn’t done any of those things, then I wouldn’t be on the uncontrollable roller coaster ride that my life has become. I know it’s cowardly and my rational self calls bullshit on my emotional side because the thought that it could still be in there, dividing, multiplying and growing, fills me with revulsion.